South African man desperate to rescue wife, daughters from riots pleads for border exemption

A South African man living in New Zealand is begging the Government to allow his wife and children into the country to escape the "devastating" and "nightmarish" violence sweeping across the country.

Violent riots have broken out across South Africa following the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma.

His supporters, who believe Zuma is the victim of a political witch-hunt, burned tyres and blocked roads in protest across his home province of KwaZulu-Natal.

More than 70 people have been killed in the rioting - and Theo Pandaram's wife and teenage daughters are trapped amongst the violence.

Pandaram told Newshub his family lives in Queensburgh - an area hardest hit by the chaos.

"My wife has had to put cotton wool in the girl's ears to drown out the sound of gunshots just so they can get a few hours of sleep at night, only to wake up in the morning to utter destruction everywhere around them."

Pandaram has been preparing to move his family to join him in New Zealand since 2019, but when the borders closed in March 2020 in a bid to keep COVID-19 out of the country, that plan was put on hold - and now the situation appears to have reached life or death.

"They are currently living our worst nightmare. As the man of the house, it is truly devastating that I am not there to protect them, that I cannot keep my promise to them to keep them safe."

He says when he calls his daughters, he hears gunshots in the background. Food is also running low for the family.

"They're still in lockdown, so they're confined to their houses - they've got food for a couple of days, but whatever stores there are, there are queues for hours and the prices are exorbitant."

He has written to Immigration New Zealand, pleading for an exemption on humanitarian grounds, but has no idea when, or if, he will hear back.

"It hurts, to say the least. We just have to carry on and try to survive."

Nicola Hogg, Immigration New Zealand's general manager of border and visa operations, says exemptions are granted when the applicants have a "critical purpose" to be in New Zealand.

"When considering whether a person has humanitarian reasons for travelling to New Zealand (which is likely to be the criteria that individuals in this situation would make a request under), immigration officers must consider whether, despite the strong public interest in protecting the health of New Zealander and supporting Government agencies response to the risks posed by the COVID-19 situation, there are exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian nature that make it strongly desirable for the applicant to travel to and enter New Zealand."

Hogg says all requests for border exemptions are considered on a case-by-case basis. 

If his application is denied, Pandaram says he has no idea what he will do. All he wants is to be able to support his family - but with his loved ones half a world away, he's stuck in an impossible situation.

"I started all over again trying to get them here and give them a future - a better future, something I didn't have. To think about going back to South Africa there are no jobs I could get - it's so hard because I have to be with the kids, so do I stay here because I can provide a monetary perspective, or go there and support them emotionally with no money?"

If he was to return, Pandaram fears he would be unemployed, and his girls would have no future due to the colour of their skin.

"There's so much anger, corruption and racism there. I'm an Indian - it's all about colour and we don't want to live that life.

"It's so corrupt, there's no future - none at all."